(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
One of the first questions many folks pose when they delve deeper into the realm of progressive rock is ďJust what the heck is RIO?Ē To describe accurately, the answer can be just as complex as the music itself. Initially the RIO (Rock In Opposition) movement started out with a half dozen bands from as many countries that were extremely dissatisfied with the treatment that artists playing uncompromising music were getting. The bands formed a coalition and set out to perform a series of concerts. Each group had a unique style but they all seemed united with a desire to play extremely challenging music. The original union quickly disintegrated but the name stayed around long afterwards and was an inspiration for many groups that came later including bands like Thinking Plague and Motor Totemist Guild.
Guitarist Tim Parr had a great love for eclectic music including RIO, built up an impressive record collection and with the help of a 4-track recorder began to make his own stamp on the music world. Formed in Phoenix, Arizona in the late 70s, the band was originally called Tim Parrís Influence. Soon after they became simply Influence and then settled on the name KnÍbnagšuje. Iím not sure what that means or even what language it is but according to the liner notes the word is pronounced Neeb-na-gasj, the last syllable sounding like ďgarageĒ without the ďrĒ. The creation process was often very chaotic with Tim instructing the group to play anything they felt like and he would later disseminate the individual tracks into something even more bizarre. Although they were blazing their own trail, thereís a definite resemblance to things like Henry Cow, Samla Mammas Manna and also the San Francisco band Cartoon with whom they had a close relationship. In fact, Cartoon member Scott Brazieal wrote the introduction in the CD booklet.
The music of Pocket Orchestra has way too many highlights to mention. One of the first things I gravitated towards was drummer Bob Stearmen. Two of his main influences listed are Chris Cutler and Furio Chirico. Although these are a couple of the most complex players ever, there is no doubt in my mind that Bob had the skills to be mentioned favorably alongside these legends. Another player that really stands out is wind instrumentalist Joe Halajian, usually known onstage as Joe Who. His saxes and clarinets give the band an excellent jazz touch. It was Joeís remix of the original promo cassette that started the wheels in motion for this release. Keyboardist Craig Bork has some very interesting contributions here as well. Not only does he provide some mind-boggling piano parts but he also plays some really wild synth. Bassist Tim Lyons along with Tim Parr was the glue that held this outfit together. Unfortunately both of them passed away far too young and werenít able to witness their intense music released to a worldwide audience. This release has been dedicated to them. And finally, thereís Bill Johnston on cello. His input is rather subtle and I didnít notice it at first but the more I listen, the more I can hear him doing all sorts of interesting things just underneath the surface.
This CD actually consists of two separate demo tapes, one recorded in 1979 and another in 1984. Itís amazing how well preserved the sound quality here is. Iím very surprised it took a quarter of a century for this stuff to see a proper CD release. I know the RIO scene didnít exactly set the music world on fire but this is some very exciting music played by a very skilled group. Itís almost unfathomable that I had never even heard about this band before. I guess the musical climate in the early 80s couldnít support such an unusual outfit and unfortunately the band just dissolved within a few years. From the extensive liner notes Iíve gathered that there is apparently more material in the vaults from this band. Hopefully with a modest amount of success with this release, someone will see fit to release that.
This one will definitely end up being one of my favorite releases of the year but Iím not sure whether I would call it a reissue or a new release. Either way, thereís some phenomenal music happening here. Some folks may see this stuff as a bunch of disjointed meanderings and senseless noise but for those of us that like that sort of thing, this is a little slice of nirvana. Kudos to the folks at MIO Records for bringing such astounding recordings from the ashes of obscurity proudly into the 21st century. Things havenít really changed that much from the first stages of the Rock In Opposition movement but at least for the musically curious there is a new release supporting its original spirit.